world news / Americas Issued on: 01/08/2022 – 13:09Modified: 01/08/2022 – 13:13
Fires ravage northern California on August 1, 2022. © David MacNew, AFP Firefighters in northern California were battling Monday to gain control over the state’s largest wildfire this year, which has claimed at least two lives after exploding in size over the weekend and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.
Whipped up by strong winds and lightning storms, the McKinney Fire ripped through the state’s dry terrain Sunday to spread over some 52,500 acres of Klamath National Forest near the town of Yreka — and was zero-percent contained as of Sunday night, according to CalFire.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying the fire had “destroyed homes” and “threatened critical infrastructure” after breaking out on Friday.
The fire was “intensified and spread by dry fuels, extreme drought conditions, high temperatures, winds and lightning storms”, Newsom said in a statement.
According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, firefighters on Sunday found two people dead inside a burned-out car on the driveway of a home in the community of Klamath River – in the fire’s path.
Speaking on ABC News, Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue said firefighters suspected the pair were caught in the fast-moving fire as they tried to flee.
More than 2,000 residents of rural neighbourhoods in the area were under evacuation orders, according to the California Office of Emergency Services, mostly in Siskiyou County.
Yreka resident Larry Castle told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he and his wife had packed up a few possessions and their three dogs to leave the area for the night, as other fires in recent years had taught them the situation could turn “very, very serious”.
Nearly 650 people were working to douse the blaze as of Sunday, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.
Firefighting forces were sent from nearby Oregon to help containment efforts, the Oregon state fire marshall said, as the Klamath National Forest also deals with the Kelsey Creek Fire.
CalFire said the cause of the fire was still “under investigation”.
The US Forest Service (USFS) said “a heavy smoke inversion” had helped to limit the growth of the fire on Sunday, but also meant that firefighters’ aircraft were also “mostly grounded”.
Fire crews were working above Fort Jones and west of Yreka “to cut off the fire’s progress”, the USFS said.
The record-breaking blaze sparked just days after the year’s previous largest fire raged in central California.
The Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park broke out in mid-July and spread rapidly, destroying 41 buildings and forcing thousands to evacuate.
California, which is facing a punishing drought, still has months of fire season ahead of it.
In recent years, California and other parts of the western United States have been ravaged by huge and fast-moving wildfires, driven by a warming climate.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)